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Archive for the ‘The Wench UNCENSORED’ Category

As you may recall, I recently had the honor of being flown to Charleston, SC to attend an all-expense-paid, super special beer dinner co-hosted by the Culinary Institute of Charleston and Samuel Adams.

beer menu

Prior to the actual event, I was sent the invitation above — which listed the various courses and pairings for the beer dinner. Other than knowing the tentative list of food & beers, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the evening.

And any expectations that I might have had, were completely blown out of the water.

There were several highlights of the night –one of which included meeting and conversing with the phenomenal team of chefs from the Culinary Institute of Charleston.

Two such chefs were Chef David Vagasky and Chef Ben Black — the brilliant talent behind the fantastic appetizer spread.

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The Wench & Chef David Vagasky

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The Wench & Chef Ben Black

At the end of the evening, I got the opportunity to interview the main chef behind the entire orchestration of the Samuel Adams beer dinner, Chef Michael Carmel. Chef Carmel is the Department Chair of Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of Charleston-Trident technical College. He is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, 1978 as well as holds a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University, master’s degree at National-Louis University and he is currently pursuing a doctorate degree.

culinary-of-charleston

The music in the background of the video is fairly loud, which makes the interview difficult to hear. This is only my second use of video on my blog, so I will note this for future posts. Oh and disclaimer number two, this interview was unplanned and completely off-the-cusp. So if I stutter, sorry :) Either way, I hope that at least some of it is entertaining and informative.

THE BEER WENCH INTERVIEWS CHEF MICHAEL CARMEL

CHEERS!

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This weekend I traveled out to the heart of California’s wine country to attend The Wine Bloggers Conference.

WBC09

Sounds weird, right — since “technically“, I’m not a wine blogger (details, details).

Last year, I missed the first ever Wine Bloggers Conference. This turned out to be extremely tragic and I vowed never again to miss such an event.

Although I am not a wine blogger, a significant portion of my “professional” experience has been wine-related. Wine is one of my greatest passions as well as subject in which I have devoted a SIGNIFICANT amount of time to studying.

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I love wine AND I am a total wine geek. (OKAY THERE, I said it. I’m out of the “wino closet”)

I have a pretty decent collection of wine books and for some time now I have been studying for sommelier and CSW certification. BUT, although I love me some geeky textbooks — when it comes to wine reviews, I trust wine bloggers more than wine writers from traditional media platforms.

social_media

The wine blogging community is a commnity of wine evagelists, wine geeks, wine enthusiasts and winemakers.

Some blogs are more relevant and interesting than others. Some blogs I follow purely for educational purposes. Some I follow purely for entertainment purposes. And some I follow for both educational and entertainment purposes.

My love for food, beer, wine and social media has given me a community of friends like none other I have ever known.

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Shana Ray, The Wench, Wannabe Wino & Wine Brat (SF)

So naturally, when I heard that a signifcantly large percentage of my Twitter friends were going to attend a conference centered around social media, food & wine — I could not resist attending the event.

Yeah yeah, it was the “Wine” Bloggers Conference … and I write about beer.

Blah blah. All I heard was “BIG PARTY out in California — where the wine flows like water.”

And except for one minor incident (which has been noted and need not be named), the wine did flow … and flow … and flow … and flow …

bus #4

The Wench, Rob Bralow, Shana Ray

No, seriously. We are talking breakfast, lunch and dinner — heck, even on the bus.

But aside from all the drinking, all the food, all the great people, great laughs and great memories — the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference was, in fact, a very serious event.

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Shana Ray (@sharayray) & The Wench

Okay, maybe not THAT serious But, it was extremely educational, informative and valuable — REALLY.

Personally, I tasted over 200 wines. I’m sure that many of the hardcore wine bloggers (aka people who actually spit) tasted nearly twice as many. In addition to drinking and eating our way through wine country — we went on vineyard walks, winery tours and attended several wine & web themed seminars and keynotes.

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The overall experience was entirely too extensive to capture in merely one post. I was impressed by several wine bloggers, winemakers, wineries, wine something-or-others … and well WINES themselves. Lots of hits, lots of misses — but nonetheless, lots of laughs, lots of memories & lots of fun.

Lots of fun.

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Ward (Dr. Xeno) & The Wench

But, ahhhh screw it. As much as I would love to illustrate my experience through the use of witty metaphors and uber creative writing, I would rather just flaunt it through the use of a select series of photos … and one oh so memorable video (which I will make you anxiously wait to see until the end …)

I arrived in California one day before the start of WBC. Instead of twiddling my thumbs or mindlessly walking throughout the city of San Fransisco, I lived “dangerously” and hitch-hiked a ride to Murphys. And by hitch-hiked, I mean I was picked up from the SFO airport by a good friend from Twitter — Russ Beebe, the infamous Wine Hiker.

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The Winehiker & The Wench

Russ kidnapped me and forced me to eat a picnic of prosciutto, cheese, fresh peaches & fresh sourdough bread on the way to visit Twisted Oak Winery. The experience was utterly unbearable …

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The Wench & El Jefe

My visit to Twisted Oak was rather inspiring — and may deserve its own post (re: beer epiphanies). I met some AMAZING people (my long lost soul-mates from Twitter), toured the Twisted Oak Winery, visited several tasting rooms in downtown Murphys, tasted many great wines (especially from Twisted Oak and Newsom-Harlow), drank some “epiphany” beers, enjoyed a nice swim in Murphys Creek, chowed down on some ridiculous good BBQ (mmm steak …) and played master winemaker in a blending competition.

Bur for me, the real “epiphany moment” came after I woke up from a remarkable nights sleep in the great outdoors underneath the infamous Twisted Oak tree …

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The Twisted Oak Tree

Russ (Winehiker) was kind enough to provide me a modest & ultra satisfying breakfast … served straight off the trailer of his truck.

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An amazing nights sleep under the stars — in combination with great company, a tasty breakfast and a beautiful crack-of-dawn view of Twisted Oak Winery — equated to absolute bliss.

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After what seemed like the perfect wine country experience in Murphys, we all headed on up to the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa for Day One of the WBC.

BUT …. this post is already entirely WAY too long. Which means, I am forced to reveal the photographic evidence (with some video footage) of the WBC in a series of consequetive posts.

Have no fear, kids. I will provide you with one little (but ultra compelling) sneak pea k …

CHEERS!

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Thus far, the response to Project NO MAN’S LAND has been extremely positive.

Which means, we have a green light to continue forward.

There is no real method in my madness when it comes to the order in which I am presenting my linear pairings. Ultimately, it all depends on my mood and what varietal and style I feel most inclined to write about at that particular moment.

pad_thai

My recent preoccupation with Asian and Thai foods has put me on a mission to find their perfect beverage counterparts. Gewürztraminer is often hailed as one of the few wines suitable for drinking with Asian cuisine. After some brainstorming, research and help from a friend — I decided that the Belgian Witbier was a sufficient linear pairing for the Gewürztraminer.

And this is why …

THE VARIETAL: Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer

The name Gewürztraminer originated in Alsace, France and literally translates to “Perfumed Traminer.” The varietal belongs to the “Traminer” family, which is often referred to as a family of clones. This is where half of its name comes from. The other half of its name – “GEWURTZ” – refers to its aromatic & spicy nature.

The history of the Gewürztraminer is complicated and rather confusing (if I do say so myself). Although its name is German, its roots are Italian. It is a mutation and distant relative of the ancient Traminer varietal, a green-skinned grape that originated in the northeastern region of Alto Adige, Italy.

tramin italy

At some point, the Traminer varietal mutated into dark pinkish-brown, spotted berries. It most likely under went a musqué (‘muscat-like’) mutation, which ultimately led to the extra-aromatic Gewürztraminer varietal. Like the Pinot Noir grape, the Gewürztraminer is a very fussy and obnoxious varietal. In order to produce great wine, it demands a very particular soil and climate.

Gew_botr

Depending on the fruit ripeness, the dark pink color of the Gewürztraminer grape produces wines that are light to dark golden-yellow in color with a slightly copper tone. For a white wine, Gewürztraminer is as full-bodied as they come (but not necessarily as full-bodied as most reds). It is infamous for its strong, heady and perfumed aroma and its exotic lychee-nut flavor.

lychee

In Europe the grape is grown in Italy, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Luxembourg, Moravia in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the New World, the grape is perhaps most successful in New Zealand and in the far south of Chile but is also produced in several regions throughout the United States.

The best wines produced from this varietal are, by far, from the Alsace region of France. “Classic renditions of this grape have the aroma of banana when young and only develop a real pungency of spice in bottle, eventually achieving a rich gingerbread character when mature.” -Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.

AlsaceMap

Because of its overly potent and spicy nature, the Gewürztraminer varietal is one of the only wines commonly paired with Asian food (especially spicy). It is also an excellent match for cheese (both soft and strong/aged), Chinese food, cinnamon, curry, duck, fruit (definitely tropical), ginger, ham, Indian food, sausage, smoked food, spicy food & Thai food.

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Enough about the wine … let’s talk about the beer now, eh?

THE STYLE: Witbier

witbier

Witbier, called “Biere Blanche” in French, is the Flemish word for wheat beer. It was once the dominant style in the area east of Brussels. Specifically, it originated in the village of Hoegarten in the city of Louvain.

louvain

As a result of its relatively high protein content, this style of beer is typically extremely hazy. Although the name suggests that the beer is made solely from wheat, it is actually produced with at least 50% malted barley. As with most styles of beer, the Witbier recipe varies with brewer preference. Traditional recipes use around 54% malted barley, 41% unmalted wheat and 5% unmalted oats.

wheat

The Witbier style is always spiced, typically with coriander and the peels of both sweet and bitter oranges. Brewers frequently use at least one additional “secret spice” — known only to the brewer and the brewer’s “herb merchant”.  The element of spice in Witbiers is the main factor that differentiates it from most other styles of wheat beers as well as one of the primary reasons why I think that the Witbier style of beer makes an ideal linear pairing for the Gewürztraminer varietal of wine.

coriander seeds

Witbiers are traditionally produced with two entirely different types of orange — sweet & bitter. The sweet orange, available as dried peelings, is no different from the standard grocery store orange. The bitter, or Curacao orange, is very accessible  in Europe — yet difficult to find in North America.

orange peel

In addition to being “spicy”, Witbiers tend to be slightly sour due to the presence of lactic acid. They are very VERY lightly hopped (usually less than 20 IBUs – International Bittering Units). Other typical, yet less noted, descriptors include banana and clove (the typical aromas yielded by Belgian yeast).

Asian Food

The Belgian Witbier is very similar to the Gewürztraminer in that it also pairs exceptionally well with Asian food as well as Indian food, Thai food, curry, pork and many cheeses. Both are notorious for being “spicy” beverages and both are commonly paired with spicy dishes. In addition to sharing “spicy” qualities, both are similar in body, texture and mouthfeel (and at times, even color).

As with the previous pairing, I would love to hear feedback on this post. Hit … or miss?

Cheers!

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It is official. I have decided to journey into territory that only a few have entered — and even fewer have survived.

NoMansLand

I am trespassing into NO MAN’S LAND. And instead of wearing camouflage and hiding in the bushes, I will be parading myself in bright neon colors and flashy sequins.

mamma-mia-1

Now. I know you must have some questions for me like … 1. Where is no man’s land 2. Why am I going there & 3. Why I am drawing so much attention to myself for doing so (the bright colors and flashy sequins thing)?

Depending on how long you have been following my blog and whether or not you know me as a person (in real life or on Twitter), you might be aware that in addition to being a beer connoisseur — I am also a wine geek. In fact, I am a professional of both. (Essentially, I am a slave of the restaurant industry — and my source of income greatly depends on my ability to sell wine, beer & food. Luckily, I am ridiculously passionate and very well educated about these topics.)

wine food

The truth is, my love for beer stemmed from my love for wine. And my love for wine stemmed from my love for food. Naturally, most people love food. Food is one of the most important things in life. Without food, life would cease to exist. Some people eat to sustain themselves and find virtually no passion in food. I pity these people. Food not only provides my body with the nourishment it needs, it feeds my mind, body and soul.

food pyramid

I have been a nerd since birth. And I have always been driven to self-educate. My parents can attest to this fact. It has always been my personal goal to become an “expert” in anything and everything that interests me. True, this goal can be very daunting. Nonetheless, I suffer from what I call “Peter Pan” syndrome and truly believe that I can do anything I put my mind to (I can fly! I can fly! I can fly!) …

Peter Pan

After I graduated college, I became lost and confused. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do with my life. I loved studying psychologoy and criminology, but I had no desire to go into professions in either field. Like most college graduates, I went through a BIG period of “soul-searching” and experimentation.

I also started cooking.

cooking

But not the type of cooking I had been doing since I was a kid … I started really cooking. And that’s when I started studying wine. I decided rather quickly that I wanted to receive Sommelier certification and the first book I picked up was “Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.” My new found passion for food & wine led to a series of jobs in both wine retail and the restaurant industry.

sotheby's

The biggest break through for me was becoming a “Managing Partner” at a restaurant called The Northstar Cafe in Columbus, OH.

northstar

Although I had no prior restaurant management experience, the owners of the restaurant saw something in me that made them overlook this factor and take the gamble and hire me. I am forever indebted to them for this. (One of the owners, Kevin Malhame, is featured in the picture below).

kevin

After I completed management training (which included working every single position in the restaurant – from dishwasher to line cook to front of the house), I was given responsibility and control over all things beverage. This included beer – and not just any beer. The Northstar Cafe only sells craft beer. I knew very little about craft beer when I start, but like a good student I did my homework. And the rest is history. Well, sort of.

drink with the wench

I won’t go any further into the choices that I’ve made since then that have brought me to where I am today (we will save that for my book, eh?). The point of this blog is to illustrate my love and passion for as well as my knowledge and experience with both beer and wine. This way my audience will better understand what I am about to do with both.

Which brings us back to NO MAN’S LAND.

do-not-enter

My newest project is absolutely brilliant (in my opinion). The idea was inspired by a request I received from a friend in the wine industry to write an article for his blog recommending beers to wine drinkers. This got my thinking about the linear relationship between wine and beer. There are several commonalities between beer and wine — they are both described in terms of aroma, mouth-feel, body, taste, finish, etc.

he said beer

Whereas wine is most commonly classified by varietal (in the U.S.), beer is categorized by style. There are many similar parallels between both classification systems. The characteristics of a single varietal of grape can changed based upon the region and area in the world in which it is grown. Similarly, there are multiple interpretations of each style of beer depending on where its produced and the ingredients being used.

wine_and_beer

My goal is to use my knowledge and experience to connect these two types of alcoholic beverages. I want to create linear pairings between styles of beer and varietals of wine. (This is either pure brilliance or pure madness). Yes, I know that I am trekking into dangerous territory by taking on such a challenge. However, I have reached a stage in my studies that has alluded me into thinking that this goal is in fact achievable and that I am in fact the man (the wench) for the job.

Beer-Wench-Painting-400

There will be haters, naturally. But this does not scare me.

And so … project enter NO MAN’S LAND begins. There is no turning back now!

Cheers!!!

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